- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

The D.C. public school system has adopted a new, more stringent attendance policy to curtail truancy and absenteeism.

A truancy task force led by the D.C. Board of Education made the emergency rule changes Wednesday.

Under the new rules, secondary students with five or more unexcused absences in a class for a single advisory period will receive a letter grade reduction for that subject. There are four such periods in a school year. A failing grade will be issued for 10 or more unexcused absences in that class.

Additionally, a student with 30 or more unexcused absences will not graduate to the next grade — a change affecting elementary and secondary students.

Audrey Williams, spokeswoman for the school board, said yesterday similar rules have been declared and enforced in the past, but the changes will now be officially added to school policy.

“If we waited until the school year to do it, it wouldn’t be [implemented] until late fall,” she said. “We want it to take effect immediately.”

During the 2003-04 school year, The Washington Times reported on school-system statistics showing a citywide truancy rate of 23.46 percent, with more than 20,000 chronically truant students. Students were considered truant if they missed 15 days of school.

But some school principals said the statistics were inaccurate because of constant computer problems.

Though there is no national standard for how a school system must compile truancy statistics, the District’s truancy rate is about four times the national average of 3 percent to 5 percent, according to the National Center for School Engagement, which is funded by the Justice Department.

D.C. officials previously set benchmarks to cut truancy rates to 21 percent in 2004-05, 18.5 percent in 2005-06 and 16 percent in 2006-07. By 2008, truancy rates should be 13 percent, according to the school system. The statistics for the 2005-06 year were not available late yesterday.

Among new efforts in the District is a program in which children and parents or guardians meet weekly with a D.C. Superior Court judge to discuss improving the students’ attendance.

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